Tag Archives: Babe Ruth

“There’s Always Been a Need in Baseball for Another Rube”

20 Sep

In 1944, Grantland Rice of The New York Herald Tribune lamented the inability of Lou Novikoff to live up expectations well into four seasons in the National League:

“It would have ben a big lift to big league baseball if…’The Mad Russian’ of the Cubs could only have approached his minor league average under the Big Tent.”

Novikoff

The reason was baseball’s need for “color;”

“There has always been a need in baseball for another Rube Waddell, another Bugs Raymond or another Dizzy Dean. They had more than their share of color. But they had something more than color—they were also great ballplayers.”

Novikoff, Rice said had “a gob of color,” but hadn’t come close to putting up the numbers he did the Pacific Coast League and American Association:

“Novikoff on the West Coast looked to be as good a hitter as Ted Williams…But he was no Ted Williams in the major show.”

Both Williams and Novikoff had huge seasons in the American Association after leaving the West Coast—Williams hit .366 in Minneapolis in 1938 and Novikoff hit .370 in Milwaukee in 1941—but as Rice concluded:  No one had yet “wipe(d) away the dust from his big-league batting eye.”

The loss of Novikoff to pick up where Dizzy Dean left off “in the headline class, “ was a loss for baseball, Rice said:

“Baseball can use more color than it has known since Dizzy Dean retired to tell St. Luis radio listeners that someone ‘sold into third base.’

“It could use another Rube Waddell, who split his spring and summer days three ways—pitching, tending bar, and going fishing. But it should be remembered Dizzy Dean and Rube Waddell were among the great pitchers of all time.”

There was none he said, as colorful as Babe Ruth. Ping Bodie “was never a great ballplayer, but he was good enough. He was another remembered character. There was the time he bought a parrot and taught the bird to keep repeating— ‘Ping made good.’”

Rive said Bugs Raymond had color and talent—but for too short a time before the color overtook the talent.

Bugs Raymond

“There was the time when Bugs was pitching for Shreveport. He made a bet that he could eat a whole turkey, drink two quarts of Scotch and win a double header. He won his bet tradition says.”

By “tradition” Rice meant Rice. He was the source of the turkey and scotch story as a young reporter covering the Southern League.

Rice’s dream team of colorful players would include:

“Babe Ruth, Rube Waddell, Dizzy Dean, Bugs Raymond, Larry McLean, Tacks Parrott, Arlie Latham, German Schaefer, Al Schacht, Crazy Schmidt [sic Schmit] Rabbit Maranville and one or two more. I wouldn’t however, want to be manager.”

Grantland Rice

While Rice valued color, he said “two of the greatest ballclubs” he ever covered we not at all colorful:

“One was Connie Mack’s Athletics lineup from 1910 through 1914, winners of four pennants in five years. The other was the Yankees after Babe Ruth left, a crushing outfit season after season.

“These two squads were composed of fine ballplayers who were rarely prankish or the lighter side of life—Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Stuffy McInnis, Jack Barry, Homerun Baker, Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, to whom baseball was strictly a business matter. The same went for Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Keller, Spud Chandler, Joe DiMaggio and others might have made up a session of bank presidents.”

Novikoff never lived up to his minor league hype. He hit a respectable .282 in five major league seasons but only played 17 games in the big-leagues after the end of World War II.

“Brain Counts More Than Slugging”

6 Sep

Amos Rusie’s return to the Seattle area to purchase a farm in 1929 made his briefly as interesting to West Coast baseball writers and his arrival at the Polo Grounds eight years earlier had briefly made his reminiscences of great interest to the New York scribes.

There is some disagreement about whether Rusie enjoyed his time in New York. What’s certain is his eight years caused him to retract his opinion from 1921 that the game had not substantially changed.

Rusie

When he arrived in Washington, The Associated Press asked the former pitcher/ballpark superintendent turned farmer for his views on the game and  to select his all-time team.

Rusie said he couldn’t understand how modern pitchers “don’t pitch to sluggers,” enough:

“None of the pitchers in my day were afraid to pitch to the best of them. You didn’t find us walking the slugger almost every time he came to bat, as they do nowadays. We figured we would either make him hit the ball or sit down. That’s what he was up there for.”

Rusie said “brain counts more than slugging,” and selected an all-time team that included just one (barely)  active player:

Pitchers: Christy Mathewson, Kid Nichols, Cy Young

Catchers: Buck Ewing, Roger Bresnahan, John Kling

First base: Dan Brouthers, Fred Tenney

Second base: Napoleon Lajoie, Eddie Collins

Third base: Jimmy Collins, John McGraw

Shortstop: Honus Wagner, Hughie Jennings

Left field: Ed Delahanty, Joe Kelley

Center field: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker

Right Field: Willie Keeler, Fred Clarke

Eddie Collins appeared in just nine games in 1929 and three in 1930 while coaching for the Athletics. Babe Ruth, who made such an impression on Rusie when eight years earlier he watched major league baseball for the first time in two decades, didn’t make the cut.

“I lay Awake All-Night Suffering from the Pain”

3 Sep

After taking in three Yankees games upon his arrival in New York—the first major league games he had seen in 20 years—New assistant Polo Grounds superintendent, Amos Rusie talked to Robert Boyd from The New York World, who asked “What impressed you the most,” after twenty years away.

“Babe Ruth.

“We had great hitters in my time, Napoleon Lajoie, (Honus) Wagner, and Ed Delahanty. But they didn’t hit the ball near as hard as this boy.”

Rusie, having seen the current baseball for three games, conceded it was livelier, and said, “I suppose the fans want hitting, and it looks like their getting it.”

Rusie

The Hoosier Thunderbolt also refused to say if pitchers of his era were better, telling Boyd he wanted to see a few more games before weighing in. He did share his general philosophy:

“I don’t approve of being too severe with pitchers. Do not curb their development. In my time we were not allowed to soil the ball. There were no freak deliveries. The spitter and shine were not heard of. We had to depend on speed and fast breaking curves, and we had a great advantage over the batsman. But today the batter has the edge. The livelier ball and the rules imposed on the pitcher are the cause of it.”

Rusie said he was pleased to see the large crowds at the Polo Grounds:

“Baseball has grown into a great national institution.”

He also said he felt the Black Sox scandal, “did not hurt the game much,’” and lauded the selection of Kennesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner, saying his presence would make the game “grow infinitely more powerful.”

Three weeks into his return to New York, the city’s baseball writers had not tired of talking baseball with Rusie.

John B. Foster of The Daily News walked the ground of Manhattan Field—the former Brotherhood Park built for the Players League in 1890 and the Giants home park beginning the following season, Rusie’s second with the Giants—with the former pitcher, who said

 “Remember the old wooden stand after you got in, and the little old lake in left field and center field after every heavy rain and high tide?

“Sometimes there’d be a lake in right field too. Remember that old two-story shed for the visiting club, and how the players used to cuss (Giants owner Andrew) Freedman because he didn’t build a better place.

“The old wooden stand wasn’t an old wooden stand when it was built. We used to think it was some theater. It was four times bigger’n the stands out West. The first time I saw it I didn’t think there’s ever’d be enough people to fill it.”

He stood firm on the question of whether the game had changed substantially:

“Nope, not as I’ve been able to see.”

Rusie talked more about his “gone” arm:

“I was sent from New York to Cincinnati. I pitched a little there (he appeared in three games and pitched 22 innings) but after a game I lay awake all-night suffering from the pain in my shoulder. I made up my mind to quit…if I couldn’t pitch the kind of ball that I had been accustomed to pitch when I was good, I wasn’t going to pitch. No bush league for me.”

At that point, New York pitcher Fred Toney—having eavesdropped on the conversation—said:

“’We are going to have him in a game before the season is over.’

“Rusie grinned and shook his head negatively

“’My old wing might break off if I took such a chance,’ replied Amos laughing.”

Despite his response, Rusie did wish he could face one more batter:

Fred Toney

“Sometimes, I’ve thought that I’d like to pitch just once against Ruth if I was up to my speed. Just for an experiment. I ‘don’t say that I could fool him anymore’n pitchers fool him now, but I’m like the kid and the buzz saw. I want to monkey with it just once.”

Rusie worked at the Polo Grounds until June of 1929—he picked a poor time to return to Washington and buy a farm—just months before the stock market crashed. His views about the modern game had also changed during his eight years back at the ballpark. 

More Rusie Monday

“I’ve Seen him Throw a Ball out of the Park in a Spell of Anger”

20 Aug

Walter Johnson rated Rube Waddell the greatest pitcher he saw in a 1925 syndicated article. He listed Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Ed Walsh as his next three.

Cy Young came next.

Johnson acknowledged he had not seen Young at his best, “His greatest three years were back in 1891 to 1893…Yet 15 years later I worked many games with the grand old veteran when he was still effective against the best batters in the American League.”

Johnson said like Young, he, “had to use more curves,” later in his career, and:

“His work was always smooth and pleasure to watch. He seldom did the sensational thing on the diamond. But one thing he did that will always live—he won 508 [sic, 511] victories.”

Cy Young

Next was Eddie Plank who Johnson said had “The best cross-fire I ever saw,” and “He was simply a wonder on doping out the other club.”

Johnson said during the 1924 World Series, “(Plank) told me some things about (Frank) Frisch and (Ross) Youngs that helped a lot.”

Johnson said Bender was “always deliberate when pithing, “wasted few balls,” and threw “an inside ball,” that “The leading batters in the league couldn’t solve.”

Chief Bender had, “a good curve and wonderful fastball. Added to these qualities he was smart as a whip.”

Chief Bender

Johnson said his temper was as much as a detriment as his intelligence was a benefit though:

“I’ve seen him throw a ball out of the park in a spell of anger.”

Johnson said umpire Tommy Connolly told a friend Bender was capable of throwing as hard as Johnson, “but he would only let himself out once or twice during a game. Usually in a tight place with men on bases and two strikes on the batter.”

Johnson’s final three were Mordecai Brown, Jack Chesbro, and Bill Donovan.

Brown, owing to the injury that cost him parts of two fingers and earned him his nickname, made it, “possible for him to get a peculiar hold on the ball that produced a deceiving curve.”

Mordecai Brown

He also rated Brown and Bender the two best fielding pitchers.

Chesbro, who served as a coach early in the season for Johnson’s World Series Champion Senators in 1924.

Johnson said of  Chesbro, “I don’t believe he has ever outlived the sting of disappointment,” over missing out on a championship in 1904—Chesbro took the loss in two of the three straight games the Highlanders dropped to the Americans on October 8 and 10, giving Boston the pennant.

Johnson said he admired Wild Bill Donovan’s side arm fast ball but admired more the fact that he wore an “eternal smile.”

“He was peeved and Hughey Jennings, then Detroit’s manager, was walking by and tried to get him sore with a bit of joshing.

‘Hell, (Donovan) ain’t got nothing on the ball.’

“’No,’ was Hughey’s reply, ‘but he’s got a smile on his face.”’


Johnson said that smile, “made the batter feel there wasn’t any use trying.”

Just misses from Johnson’s ten were Smoky Joe Wood, Rube Marquard, Addie Joss, Urban Shocker, Babe Ruth, and Stan Coveleski.

“Most of These Kids Today Can’t Take it”

17 May

Grantland Rice of The New York Herald interviewed Ty Cobb on a fairly regular basis when the retired star was living on the West Coast.

In 1940, after the two met in San Francisco, he said, “Cobb was the bluebird harbinger of spring,” and recalled when, in 1904, “Cobb kept writing me letters, signing Smith, Jones, Brown, and Robinson—all telling me what a great player young Tyrus Raymond Cobb was.”

Rice

Rice said he “fell for the gag,” and thanked Cobb for making him, “quite a prophet” for writing about him based on the letters.

Rice asked Cobb about his famous batting grip:

“It shows what habit will do in sports. I began playing baseball with much older and bigger kids.” I couldn’t grip the big bats that they had near the handle. I had to spread my hands to poke at the ball.

“I couldn’t swing the big bats any other way. After that I couldn’t change. But I was probably better off as a place hitter than I might have been as a slugger. I never believed in slugging anyway.

“I believe in getting on—and then getting around. Today they only believe in hitting a fast ball out of the park.”

Cobb said he was “still for speed and science,” over power:

“Base stealing today is a lost art. It seems to be gone forever. Did you know that several high-class ballplayers last season failed to steal a base? I remember one year I had 96 steals. That’s almost the same as 96 extra base hits, for those steals put me in a position to score.”

Rice asked the 56-year-old Cobb what the biggest difference between the “present crop” and the players of his era was:

“Stamina, I mean legs and arms. I’ve lived on my legs most of my life. As you may remember in 24 big league years, I never spared my legs. I’ve played many a game with almost no skin on either thigh.

“I believed then and I believe know in toughening up your system—not sparing it. Between seasons I hunted all winter, eight or ten hours a day. That’s what Bill Dickey has done—and you know where Bill Dickey stands in baseball.”

Cobb

Cobb had little use for current pitchers either:

“The modern crop has weak arms. Look at Cy Young, winning 512 ball games. Show me a pitcher today who can even pitch 400 games. Remember Ed Walsh? One year Ed won 40 games and saved 12 others [sic, 6]. He worked in 66 games that year, around 1908. And then pitched through a city series, working in almost every game.

“Most of these kids today can’t take it. They have come up the easy way. They have to be pampered. A lot of them need a nurse. We had to come up the hard way. What a difference that makes—in any game.”

Cobb lamented that any current pitcher “is almost a hero” for winning 20 games:

“Can you imagine Cy Young, who averaged over 20 games for wee over 20 years, out there today.

“The kids today rarely use their legs. They ride in place of walking. I always had to walk.  Maybe five miles—maybe 20 miles. The old-time pitchers had to work in 50 or 60 games. Maybe more. I’ve seen them come out long before the ball game was scheduled to start in order to get the kinks out of their tired arms, working out slowly for over 30 minutes. But not today.”

Cobb said he believed Dizzy Dean would be “a throwback” until he hurt his arm:

“He always wanted to pitch. To be in there. But there are not many left like that. They’d rather be resting up.

“In my opinion, a real pitcher should be good for at least 45 ball games—maybe 50 if he is really needed. I mean men like Walsh, Cy Young, Alexander, Matty, Chesbro, Joe Wood—the top guys. They could take it—and they loved it. Not this modern crowd. At least most of them. They haven’t the stamina needed to go on when there is no one to take their place.”

Cobb had good things to say of two other modern stars:

“I’ll say this for Babe Ruth. He could always take it—and like it. So could Lou Gehrig. You never had to pamper Ruth or Gehrig. They were ballplayers of the old school. So was Matty. So was Alexander, drunk or sober. What a pitcher.”

Cobb said what mattered in all things was stamina, fortitude, brains and speed:

“They still count. When they don’t then you haven’t either a game or civilization. You haven’t anything worthwhile.”

Note: As indicated below, Cobb conflated Walsh’s 1908 regular season performance and his 1912 post-season work in Chicago’s City Series. I failed to include that note and this link in the original post: https://baseballhistorydaily.com/tag/chicago-city-series/

“Is the Home Run a Menace to Baseball?”

8 Apr

Boyden Sparkes worked on newspapers in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, and later became a feature writer for “The Saturday Evening Post,” and was the author of several fiction and nonfiction books. In 1922, he asked the question in The New York Tribune, “Is the home run a menace to baseball?”

Sparkes talked to Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbetts about Babe Ruth and the increase in home runs.:

“All of the home runs are to be accounted for by heavier bats. I don’t mean that the bat actually weighs more, but there is more of the body of the wood down where it meets the ball.

“Rule 15 says the bat must be round and no longer than forty-two inches and no thicker than two and three-quarter inches and didn’t concern themselves so much with heft or thickness. Now they are mostly using bludgeons…I’d say 85 percent of the increased number of home runs is due to this.”

Ruth’s Bat

Sparkes then sought out:

“(A) mortal with a perspective on the true merits of the rise in the home-run market…But where is one to find a baseball star who was lost from the firmament a decade ago?

“It is not so difficult when the star is (Willie) Keeler and information is sought in Brooklyn, a few months ago in an invalid’s wheelchair he was trundled off the boat that ferries between Sheepshead Bay and Rockaway Point.”

Keeler, just 50, was only months away from death:

“(H)is friend and physician, Dr. Charles Wuest watches with tender solicitude while the old ballplayer who used to go from home to first like a flash doles out a precious energy ration for a short walk on the beach.”

Asked what the “old boy” thought of Babe Ruth, Keller said:

“He’s got a beautiful swing. Yes, he’s got a beautiful swing. Ruth is better than anyone. I don’t mean that he is a scientific hitter (Billy shook his head here), but he certainly is a wonder with home runs.

“I don’t know whether the ball is anymore ‘live’ or not. I’ve only seen one game—the last championship—since they claim the ball has been changed, and I couldn’t judge by that, but there are several factors that have altered the chances of the pitchers and the batters.”

Keeler

Keeler called those factors “a changing struggle.”

He said:

“Every baseball player who studies the game is really an inventor seeking ways to alter it. It’s like the centuries-old contest between the makers of armor and the makers of projectiles…It’s the same way with bank burglars and bank vaults.”

Keeler said outlawing the spitball was a key factor in aiding hitting:

“The spitball was one I couldn’t figure. I never did approve of it either. It doesn’t look right to see fellow spitting on a ball. It’s unhealthy, too, as far as that goes. Then they got to using all sorts of tuff on the ball, rubbing it with emery paper and putting paraffin on it.”

Noting the many changes in baseball’s rules over the years, Sparkes said, “Other countries do not change the rules of their national sports as Americans do. A bull fighter of today could use the swords of a matador of a century ago.”

This, he said was true of cricket as well and spoke to Harry Rushton, secretary of New York’s Metropolitan District Cricket League, who said:

“What? Revise the rules of cricket! Why, my dear sir it wouldn’t be cricket.”

Rushton said:

“The revision of rules in cricket is usually for clarification. The only change that I can recall which altered the balance of chance between the batsman and the bowler was really due to the American influence, I should say, and England, of course, has never accepted the change.”

Rushton said a “movement among American cricketers” attempted to “increase and ‘over’ from six to ten balls.” A change from six to eight was made in Australia, but “the Briton at home clings to the six ball over.”

After talking to Ebbetts and Keeler, and the cricketer, Sparkes arrived at the conclusion that many have when faced with another radical change to the game:

“Clearly, if baseball is to remain baseball. The men who control it will have to stop tampering with it.”

“The Cream Puff Era in Baseball”

31 Mar

During his scouting trip to the West Coast looking for talent for the Boston Braves, Johnny Evers talked to Brian Bell, the Associated Press Bureau Chief in San Francisco:

“(He) has been sitting up late looking at games in the Pacific Coast League. The once great second baseman frankly is puzzled.

“Night baseball has turned the game topsy-turvy. A scout dislikes to recommend the purchase of an infielder or pitcher because with the lights the players have to adjust themselves to various conditions.

“’Recently, I looked at a promising shortstop.’ said Evers. ‘He was playing almost in left field. The next time I saw him in another park he was almost in back of the pitcher. When I spoke to him about it, he said that each park in the league has its dark spots and he has to play accordingly.’”

Johnny Evers

The shortstop Evers was scouting, according to The Los Angeles Express was Carl Dittmar. The club was said to be looking for a replacement for 39-year-old Rabbit Maranville, in order to move the veteran to 2nd base; the Braves instead purchased Billy Urbanski from the Montreal Royals.

Pitchers told Evers they would have to throw low pitches at the parks with lights mounted on top of the grandstand and high pitches at the parks with lower mounted lights:

“How can a scout tell whether these pitchers that are so good at night can pitch in the majors in the daytime?”

As for baseball as a whole?

“Evers calls the present ‘the cream puff era’ in baseball. ‘There’s no more fight in the game.”

He complained that one West Coast manager told him a player we wanted to scout had ‘a bad cold’ and would not be in the lineup:

“I cannot understand players staying out of a ball game because of a cold.”

 There were at least two players of “the cream puff era” that Evers approved of:

“Babe Ruth and Lefty O’Doul are the greatest hitters today. They realized that conditions are changing in baseball. Ruth’s mighty swings eliminated the bunt and put the homerun at a premium some years ago. With the slowing up of the baseball, Ruth is accepting the changed conditions.

“The big fellow of the Yankees now just meets the ball most of the time. Because of his strength, the ball leaves the bat like a shot and is past the infielders before they are able to take a full step.

“O’Doul is meeting the ball in a sweeping motion, which results in many base hits. He started the season in a terrible slump, but he was smart enough to discover the trouble.”

O’Doul

The scout, and co-author with Hugh Fullerton of “Touching Second: The Science of Baseball” remained a fan of the dead ball:

“Evers thinks the slower the ball the better the players and the game. Brainy players and plays have been sacrificed by the lively ball for fellows who can do nothing but ‘cut and slash.’”

.

Ed Barrow’s All-Time All-Stars

26 Mar

“The old-timers. They were better hitters! No question about it.”

Said Ed Barrow after he became president of the New York Yankees in 1939 and Jimmy Powers of The New York Daily News had the 71-year-old pick his all-time team.

Barrow

Powers said of Barrow:

“The beetle-browed executive, one of the few remaining links between the gas-lit, coach-and-four, Wee Willie Keeler era and the moderns, boomed at us across his wide, flat-topped desk in the offices of the New York baseball club.”

Barrow was “a great believer in ‘natural born’ stars,’ telling Powers, “A fellow has it—or he hasn’t it.”

He explained his theory:

“Once in a while a manager will make a few minor corrections in stance, or change something here and there, but if player hasn’t the natural coordination, the God-given physique, the reflexes for rhythm and timing, he’ll never get ‘em. Sometimes one man will get more mileage out of his talents than another because he will work harder. That’s why the old-timers were better hitters. They looked at better pitching, and they practiced and practiced and practiced.”

Barrow said there was one reason in particular for why old-timers were better hitters:

“The tipoff is in the strikeout column. The moderns strikeout oftener—and there’s your answer. The present-day hitter is so homerun crazy that half the time he closes his eyes and swings; four bases or nothing! Usually, it’s nothing.”

Barrow’s told Powers:

“Now, on my All-Star, All-Time team I’d put Cobb, Speaker and Ruth in the outfield. Chase, Lajoie, Wagner, and Jimmy Collins in the infield. Matty, Johnson, Waddell, and McGinnity, pitchers. And Bill Dickey, catcher…I’d put Joe DiMaggio on that team as utility outfielder. I’d put Lou Gehrig as substitute first baseman and pinch hitter. Bill Bradley, Eddie Collins, Swede Risberg, and Buck Weaver would also get contracts on this ‘Dream Team.’ Keeler would be another utility outfielder and Bresnahan would be my second catcher. Ruffing and Gomez would fill out my pitching staff!”

Barrow’s All-Stars

Barrow said he could offer “a million reasons’ for the rationale for each selected player. 

“(R)ecords can be misleading…I won’t quote you records of my All-Timers…A man must be in the dugout or in the stands to weigh the merits of a player and not be influenced by a record book.”

He said in choosing his team, he held “no grudges,” which is why he selected Risberg and Weaver, “Black Sox scandal or not.”

He said he would add Joe Jackson to the team, “if I thought he was smart enough. But Jackson, strange to say, was the only dumb one on that whole team. Up until 1938s Yankees—those Black Sox were the best team in baseball!”

As for some of his picks:

“Chase on first base! Nobody near him. He could throw a ball through a knothole, covered the whole infield like a cat, and remember he used a glove that just covered his fingers and seldom had a palm. The ‘peach baskets’ first basemen use today would have been barred years back, Chase could hit behind the runner, bunt, steal, fake a bunt at third and then bunt over the third baseman’s head. He could do all the tricks.”

Chase

He called Napoleon Lajoie “the most graceful second baseman I have ever seen. He had a rifle arm and was as slick as a panther,” and gave him the edge “by a slight margin” over Eddie Collins.

Honus Wagner, who Barrow signed for the Patterson Silk Weavers in 1896, “is my nomination as the greatest individual ballplayer of all time.”

Of his first impression of Wagner, he said:

“He was pretty terrible when I first ran across him, looked awkward as all get-out. But suddenly he would come through with a perfectly dazzling play that had everybody on our bench swallowing his tobacco cud in astonishment.”

Like Lajoie, Barrow said Jimmy Collins just edged out the second choice—Bill Bradley—because:

“Collins could make perfect throws to first from any position. When an infielder makes an off-balance throw today the crowd gives him a big hand. The old timers did it every play because the old ball was slow dribbling out there. Today the lively ball comes out fast in one or two hops, and this gives the third baseman a chance to make his throw from a ‘straightened up’ stance.…Remember, in the old days the ball was dark, wet with slippery elm juice; often it was smudged with grass stains, hard to follow.”

In the outfield, Barrow said, “I don’t think anyone will give you an argument on Cobb-Speaker-Ruth.”

He called Ty Cobb “the greatest hitter of all time,” with “a lightning-quick brain and plenty of gut.”

Babe Ruth, he said was, in addition to the being the “great slugger of all-time,” changed the game because of “His salary, his magnetic personality, and his publicity.”

Tris Speaker “was superb. A good hitter, a great fielder, a brainy man. He was so confident of his ability ‘to go back’ he practically camped on second base.”

Of the pitching staff, he said Christy Mathewson “could do almost everything with a baseball—practically make it talk.”

Of Walter Johnson he said:

“He had awe-inspiring speed. You’d stand up there watching and suddenly—pfffft—pfffft—pfffft. Three phantom bullets whizzed past. Too fast for your eyes to focus ‘em.”

Rube Waddell was “the best lefthander” he had seen.

Joe McGinnity appeared to be a sentimental choice:

“(He) was a work horse, a competent soul who loved the game so much I believe he’d work for nothing.”

Bill Dickey, he said was not “given the credit” he deserved:

“He’s a hitter. A workmanlike receiver. Handles pitchers marvelously. Has a good arm. Is fast. Is always one jump ahead of the opposition. Dickey does everything well.”

“Gibson Comes as Close to Ruth as You’ll Ever get”

24 Mar

In July of 1944, Jim McCulley of The New York Daily News sat with two men watching a game:

“’The greatest ball players I ever saw?’ Said the fellow on my left. ‘That’s easy.’

“’Pitchers? Well, there was Christy Mathewson, old Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Three-Fingered Brown. There was Ty Cobb, a fat guy named Ruth and Joe Jackson in the outfield. Catchers? Let’s see now; there was Roger Bresnahan and I guess I have to put Ray Schalk in there along with Roger; There was (Pie) Traynor at third and the old Dutchman at short, of course, but do I have to tell you his name, Hans Wagner? Rogers Hornsby at second and Georg Sisler at first. They were the greatest I ever played against or saw, anyway, and I don’t think they can come much better.

“’Speaker? He was great all right, but naw, not in their class.”

McCulley’s other companion responded that Hal Chase belonged in place of Sisler.

“The fellow on the left smiled and said: ‘Leave me out of it.”

Hal Chase, 61 years old and in failing health, was on the East Coast “on a little vacation” attending games and attempting to rehabilitate his reputation. Although he shaved three years off his age and told McCulley his birthday was in a “couple of days, July 21st to be exact;” Chase’s birthday was February 13.

Chase

McCulley said the former first baseman, despite his many illnesses and injuries, “still has that athletic figure and moves around quickly and with the same grace which made him so outstanding on the ball field.”

Chase said he watched a dozen games on his trip East:

“Even went out to see Josh Gibson play the other day. There’s a hitter. One of the greatest of all time. He hit two home runs and they were belts. Say, if he played in the Polo Grounds 75 games a year, he’d hit 75 home runs.”

Chase even told an apocryphal story about the Negro League star:

“’You know how Gibson happened to start playing pro ball?’ asked Chase. ‘Well, one day the old Pittsburgh Crawfords were moving out of Pittsburgh in a bus. They happened to stop along side of a sandlot diamond on account of a traffic tie up. So they all took a look out the windows to watch the in progress. There was a mighty loud crack and a couple of seconds later a ball bounced off the top of the bus, which was parked about 400 feet from the home plate. Oscar Charleston, who managed the Crawfords at the time, got right out of the bus and hot-footed after the kid who had socked the ball.”

It is not clear whether the story was invented by Chase or a story he had picked up, but it ignores that Gibson began his professional career with the Homestead Grays and was well-known as a semi-pro player before his first professional game.

Chase said Gibson was the second-best player he’d ever seen:

“That fat guy was the greatest, of course. Nobody can come close to Ruth. He was the greatest that ever lived, better than Cobb or anybody else. If Ruth ever shortened up on the bat, he’d have hit over .400 every year. But Gibson comes as close to Ruth as you’ll ever get.”

Gibson

As for his own legacy:

“Chase still gets emotionally upset when the talk gets around to his final days as a player. It’s a well-known fact that he didn’t leave the game of his own accord, but we won’t go into that here.”

McCulley said the “name of Chase belongs alongside those of other all-time greats of the diamond,” and:

“The fact that his name isn’t listed in the Cooperstown museum cuts deeper and deeper into Hal as time goes on. It’s the one regret and the one dark thought in an otherwise brilliant baseball saga.”

Chase was dead less than three years later with thesame regret and dark thought unresolved.

His first major league manager, Clark Griffith told Shirley Povich of The Washington Post:

“You wouldn’t believe a man could do all the things on a ball field Chase could do. There wasn’t a modern first baseman who can come close to him. There wasn’t ever any ‘second Hal Chase.’ He was in a class by himself.”

“They Make just as many Fumbles as we did”

1 Mar

The summer before his death in 1932, 73-year-old Dan Brouthers, “Sat in the shade under the Yankee Stadium bleachers where Babe Ruth hits all those home runs.”

Brouthers spoke to Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Eagle:

“(He) admits that baseball has changed quite a bit…’But it hasn’t changed either,’ the old fellow, a giant of a man in shirt sleeves and straw hat contradicted himself. ‘I notice when the boys go out on the field nowadays, they make just as many fumbles as we did, pull just as many bones.”

Dan Brouthers

Brouthers said he didn’t believe players of his generation would have “ever made an error if,” they played on the current fields.

“’Do you know I never saw a groundskeeper until I played in Brooklyn in ’82? He was a curiosity. I used to take a rake myself and clean up around first base just before the game started. Then I’d pass it along to the second baseman, the third baseman.’

“’What about the shortstop?’

“’Oh, you mean Pop Smith?’ questioned Brouthers, the old eyes that were keen enough once upon a time in the past for their owner to lead the big-league batters for five seasons, lit up in admiration: ‘Pop didn’t need any rake.’”   

Brouthers told Burr he could not recall how many homeruns he hit but “remembers ever detail” of the 1887 World Series with the St. Louis Browns:

“Charlie Comiskey was on first base for them. Detroit slugged them to death, winning eight of the first 11 games. But the contract called for 15 games and we played it out. (Beginning with game 4) we went to Pittsburgh for a game—Brooklyn –New York—two games in Philadelphia—one in Washington—Baltimore—Boston—back to Brooklyn –Detroit—Chicago—and wound up in St. Louis. We traveled in a special train and were 28 days on the road.

“The crowds were good through all the barnstorming and the traveling World Series played to 15,000 and 20,000 people a day. Regular season prices prevailed—75 cents—in grandstand and 50 and 25 cents in the bleachers.”

Brouthers didn’t mention that he was injured and had just three at bats during the series, won by Detroit 10 games to five.

“No,” said Brouthers in the end, ‘the game hasn’t changed. But I guess there are more good hitters around.”

He said:

“’I see a lot of the Babe’s homers up there,’ pointing through the skeleton scaffolding of the bleachers looming above him. ‘I like to watch (Chuck) Klein and (Lou) Gehrig ride ‘em. Gehrig is strong as a bear. And Babe Herman. The kids are the same too wanting you to sign their books and baseballs. Only it was cigarette pictures we had to autograph.”

Brouthers then asked, “‘When will this story be in the paper, mister?’” Burr said Sunday:

“’I’ll bring you up some copies of it.’

“’Bring me one,’ said the quaint Dan Brouthers, ‘I’ll read it first and let you know if I want anymore.’”